Adi Talwar

A fruit and vegetable vendor on Jerome Avenue near 182nd Street in the Bronx.

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It has been more than a year since the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) took over the street vendor inspection and enforcement functions previously performed by the NYPD—answering the calls of advocates and vendors themselves, who complained for years about police harassment of workers in the largely immigrant-run industry.

But the switch to more civilian oversight hasn’t meant fewer tickets, or less enforcement, data shows: Just in the second half of 2021, DCWP issued 762 tickets to vendors, and doled out another 171 in 2022 as of Feb. 20.

The NYPD continues to issue tickets to street vendors too, especially in the subway, and to make seizures and curb counterfeit brands. Between June and December of last year, the police issued 742 such tickets, only slightly less than the DCWP during the same period, according to the police department’s quarterly reports (police summons numbers for 2022 have not yet been published).

DCWP says it continues to work with NYPD “in areas where illegal vending persists following education and enforcement,” according to a spokesperson. “DCWP is the lead enforcement agency but if a vendor is unlicensed or vending on restricted streets and does not provide ID or leave the restricted area, NYPD will be in the area to assist.”

The numbers are contrary to the thinking about authorities relaxing enforcement during the pandemic, when thousands of workers lost their jobs and many took to the streets to peddle whatever they could. Indeed, after a lull in 2020, the number of tickets issued to street vendors by both departments in 2021 slightly exceeds the number of total tickets issued by the NYPD prior to the COVID-19 crisis: 1,621 tickets last year compared to 1,609 civil and criminal summons issued in 2019.

And it is worth noting that the DCWP—formerly known as the Department of Consumer Affairs, or DCA—only began actively ticketing vendors from June 1 on. During the first half of 2021, the department conducted educational activities with vendors and advocates, developing 30 educational events in popular corridors to disseminate inspection checklists and promote compliance.

In 2021, DCWP received 6,525 complaints about vending, and another 509 complaints this year as of Feb. 20. The most vending complaints were in Manhattan and Brooklyn in both 2021 and 2022 so far, the numbers show. Complaints can come from the general public, community boards, business improvement districts (BIDs), advocates, and elected officials. In the past, concerns around vending have included complaints about trash, the obstruction of sidewalks, and the potential impact on brick-and-mortar small businesses.

Vendors and advocates, however, contend that street vending helps local businesses by boosting neighborhood foot traffic, and say workers in the industry have been subject to unfair enforcement for just trying to earn a living, worsened by a decades-long cap on the number of street vendor permits the city made available, which the City Council finally voted to lift last year.

2021 Complaints
Staten Island56
From an undetermined location or outside of NYC133
** DCWP began actively enforcing vending regulations on June 1, 2021.

2022 Complaints
Staten Island2
From an undetermined location or outside of NYC15
Source: DCWP data

DCWP issued violations in approximately 12 percent of the vendor inspections it conducted in 2021, and in about 10 percent of inspections conducted during the first two months of 2022, the numbers show. Vendors can face fines for infractions like having a pushcart that leans up against a building, vending on a sidewalk less than 12 feet wide or not next to the curb, or vending without the proper permit or license (a mobile food vendor operating without a permit, for instance, can be fined up to $1,000, violation data for the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings shows).

2021DCWP InspectionsViolations issued
Staten Island240

2022DCWP InspectionsViolations issued
Staten Island50

The top five zip codes in NYC that were inspected most in 2021 and 2022 were precisely those zip codes with a large immigrant population. In Jackson Heights, for example, where the most inspections were carried out last year, nearly 60 percent of residents are foreign-born, according to Census data. Sunset Park, which saw the greatest number of inspections so far in 2022, more than half of the population was born outside the U.S.

2021 RankingZIPNeighborhood/BoroughNumber of InspectionsNumber of Violations
111372Jackson Heights, Queens62390
211220Sunset Park, Brooklyn36734
310036Clinton/Midtown West/West Side, Manhattan30767
411354Murry Hill, Queens28869
510033Washington Heights/Uptown, Manhattan26650
2022 RankingZIP CodeNeighborhood/BoroughNumber of InspectionsNumber of Violations
111220Sunset Park, Brooklyn14810
211372Jackson Heights, Queens13414
311354Murry Hill, Queens1092
411368Corona, Queens1068
511373Elmhurst, Queens7216

Back in September 2021, City Limits reported that fines against street vendors in New York City were on the rise after a lull in 2020, and the number of DCWP fines between June 1 and August 31 had already surpassed the quarterly average number of civil citations issued by the NYPD in 2019.

There is currently a push for a bill in Albany to legalize street vending across the state by authorizing cities with more than one million residents to adopt a street vendor regulation program and require street vendors to obtain a permit. While the City Council passed a bill in 2021 adding 4,000 new supervisory licenses over the next decade, starting this year, obtaining one now remains one of the biggest hurdles for vendors. 

Newly elected Assemblymember Manny De Los Santos, from the 72nd district in Upper Manhattan, has said he will use “the experience of my parents [who are immigrant street vendors] to convince my colleagues in Albany of the need to pass this important bill.”